Archive for the ‘Fun Facts’ Category

Here is a post I wrote for Gothamist a few years ago that offers some useful baking equivalents and substitutions:

Halfway through that chocolate chip cookie recipe and realize you’re out of brown sugar? If, like many New Yorkers, you’re not on borrowing terms with your neighbors, here are some handy substitutions you can make for common baking ingredients:


• 1 cup buttermilk = 2/3 cup yogurt + 1/3 cup milk

• 1 cup confectioner’s sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar + one teaspoon cornstarch

• 1 cup light brown sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 tablespoon molasses

• 1 cup dark brown sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar + 2 tablespoons molasses

• 1 cup cake flour = 7/8 cup all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons cornstarch

• 1 teaspoon baking powder = 1/4 teaspoon baking soda + ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

• 1 oz unsweetened chocolate = 1 ½ ozs bittersweet or semisweet chocolate less 1 tablespoon of sugar from the recipe

• 1 stick unsalted butter = 1 stick salted butter less ½ teaspoon salt from the recipe

• 1 cup whole milk = 5/8 cup skim milk + 3/8 cup half and half

What substitutes for baking ingredients do you use?


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How long will berries last after picking? If stored in your refrigerator, here are some basic estimates:

Strawberries: Up to one week
Blueberries: Up to two weeks
Blackberries: Up to four days
Raspberries: Up to five days
Cranberries: Up to one month

There are a few things you can do to extend their life. Don’t wash the berries before storing them; the damp will make them soggy. Rinse them just before using them. Get rid of any berries that seem soggy or overripe. One bad berry can ruin the rest. Store the berries in the coldest part of your refrigerator. The idea temperature for most berries is just above freezing. In general, each hour that a berry sits at room temperature means one less day of shelf life. Store-bought berries will have a shorter life span, depending upon how long ago they were picked.

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-Use fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak freshness.

-Get a jar lifter. This simple tool makes submerging and removing hot jars from boiling water much easier and much less dangerous.

-Once you’ve sterilized your jars by running them through the dishwasher or by boiling them in water for 10 minutes, store them in the oven at 250 degrees. It will keep them hot, sterile, and out of the way while you prepare your product.

-Sterilize the lids by soaking them in water that has boiled. Put on the lids while they’re hot. The heat softens the rubber around the edge of the lid, which helps ensure a vacuum seal.

-Fill the jars nearly to the top, leaving 1/4 inch of head space with jams and jellies, 1/2 inch of head space with acidic foods, such as fruits and tomatoes, and 1 inch of head space with starchier, low-acid foods, which may swell and need additional room.

-Remove any air bubbles by wiping a clean knife or spoon around the interior of the jar.

-After filling, wipe the tops of the jars with a clean cloth or sponge. A clean rim helps to ensure that the lid seals properly.

-Once you have processed the jars, check the seal after 12-24 hours by pressing the button in the center of the lid. If it pops back, the seal is not good. The food can be reprocessed and canned again or refrigerated and eaten. If it does not pop back, the seal is good and the food should be fine in your cupboard for up to a year.

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The UK Guardian has a short interview with Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s fame online. He says that he and Ben learned how to make ice cream by taking a $5 correspondence course. Also that he and Ben did not want to sell their business to Unilever (which took place in 2000), but because they were a publicly held company under obligation to their stockholders, they had no choice. He calls ice cream “an indulgent dessert that should be eaten in moderation.” His favorite flavor? Vanilla toffee crunch.

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Baking powder is a leavener usually made up of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), an acid salt (which reacts with moisture or heat, or both – such as tartaric acid, mono-calcium or combination of acid salts), and cornstarch (a filler used to keep the ingredients separated; it also absorbs moisture which prevents premature action).

Double-acting baking powder is more common. It contains two acid salts. This means that reacts twice: first when it is combined with a liquid, and then again when heated. It emits carbon dioxide gas each time it reacts, which produces leavening.

Single acting baking powder reacts once, when it is mixed with a liquid. The product must be baked immediately after mixing, or you will lose the rising effect. You can make single-acting baking powder by combining cream of tartar with baking soda in a 2:1 ratio (i.e. two teaspoons cream of tartar to one teaspoon baking soda).

Once opened, baking powder usually lasts about 6-9 months. To test if baking powder is still good: place a teaspoon of baking powder in a glass of tepid water to see if it fizzes. If it does, it’s still good. It should be stored in a dry place. Do not store in the refrigerator as condensation on the can will ruin it.

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-It is a naturally occurring carbohydrate in fruit. It acts as a stabilizer and a gelling and thickening agent in food.

-Pectin is from the Greek pektikos, meaning “congealed” or “curdled.”

-Concentrated in the fruits’ skin and core, pectin binds cells together. The tougher parts of the fruit contain more pectin, and as fruit ripens and cell walls break down, the amount of pectin gradually decreases. For this reason, if you are not using commercial pectin, you will sometimes see suggestions to add some unripe fruit to a jam or jelly, or to add the skin of an apple.

-Fruits that are high in pectin: apples, oranges, gooseberries, grapes, cranberries, plums, blackberries, currants and quince. Citrus fruit peel and seeds are also high in pectin.

-Fruits that are low in pectin: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, peaches, pears and rhubarb.

-Acid (such as lemon) helps to draw pectin out of fruit when it is heated. June Taylor uses lemon pith and seeds as a natural pectin in her jams. See a video of her making marmalade and talking about her jams on chow.com.

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I’ve just finished reading Rowan Jacobsen’s A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America. It covers a history of oysters in this country, with very articulate descriptions of the different species and varieties, lists of good oyster bars and festivals and growers who ship direct, and all manner of oyster recipes. Here’s what I’ve learned:

-There are five species of oysters commercially cultivated in the U.S.: Kumamotos, Pacifics, Belons (also known as European Flats), Easterns and Olympias. Within those five species are numerous varieties of oysters. They’re often named for their place of origin but (unlike in the wine world) there is no strict naming system in place.
-Their flavors tend to be either fruity and clean in taste, like Kumamotos and Pacifics, or briney and metallic, like Eastern, Belon and Olympia oysters. Belons are known as the “oyster-lovers oyster” because of their very distinctive briney and coppery flavor (which some find overwhelming).
-Like wine, they have very distinctive flavors, textures and shapes depending upon where and how they were raised.
-They can change gender.
-They process up to fifty gallons of ocean water a day through their shells.
-Live oysters ship really well: a number of growers harvest to order, and you’ll get them two days out of the water. At a restaurant, they may have been harvested a week before they’re served to you. But oysters don’t decompose the way fish or meats do—they’re still alive, after all. So even after a week they’ll be OK. They just won’t taste quite as fresh.

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